Creating Relatable Characters by Lynne Marshall

This week we have author Lynne Marshall talking to us about   how to Create Relatable Characters. Her new book is, Forever a Father (The Delaneys of Sandpiper Beach). 

You can connect with Lynne Marshall on the Web:

 Website          Facebook    

For the past couple of years, I have enjoyed giving a workshop titled Redeeming Despicable Characters. The following are a few highlights from that workshop.

As writers we have to consider how far we expect our readers to follow along with our beloved characters before they’re exhausted and ready to throw our book across the room.
Let’s admit it, authors occasionally are known to be overindulgent with characters. We love them. Because we created them. They blindside us. And we don’t always realize how off-putting they might be to our readers.

Though readers really don’t want perfection, they also don’t want completely flawed characters.  What readers need is something to endear the characters to them. The sooner this happens in the book the better.


First establish the character likability before you hit the reader over the head with all of their flaws.
In other words, show the character in a sympathetic light right off.

Can you Say Sympathetic?

“Your best bets are sympathetic characters—characters with whom the reader is able to share and empathize, at least in imagination.” Dwight V. Swain from Creating Characters – How to build story people.

What are Likable Qualities?

For a Friend:
Loves you for you even when you’re being a butthead (from teen advice column) Translation: Acceptance.

The Universal Admirable Qualities of a Hero - According to

Virtuosity – Skilled. Accomplished or good at something.
Sacrifice (willing to take risk for someone)
Intrepid (unshakable, unflappable)
Fortitude (backbone, grit)

Our heroes don’t have to have ALL of these qualities or we’d be dealing with a perfect character, and we already know no one likes that.  In fact, using a few of those qualities goes a long way to make the point. i.e. This is a good man/woman.
People like people who do positive things or have a talent for something, not just creative either, but practical, everyday kind of talent.
Does the character have a profession that brings respect?  (not based on earnings alone)
Or is the character an underdog working their way to their secret desire of overcoming something or becoming _________ fill-in-the-blank
Can the reader relate to the character’s goal? Is it a worthy goal?

Using Pets to Make a Good Point

“Animals reveal the depth of character in the people who surround them. All you have to do is show a person (your hero for instance) tired from work, pausing to stoop and lift a bug out of a puddle.”
Robert Peck – Folks is Fiction 
Don’t overlook this avenue when writing a particularly privileged, edgy, or crusty character.

What About Empathy?

A rule of thumb for characters is to make them likable, which creates empathy for them.  If we glimpse a bit of ourselves in a fictional character, we can relate – even if they’re super heroes, Alpha bad boys, royalty, or billionaires.

What are Empathetic Stimulators?

Any situation that is relatable, such as:

Character in jeopardy – a classic! (not necessarily life and death jeopardy – but we all know how it feels to have our back against the wall at some level – right?)

Klutzy or a Screw up – Something we can all relate to. This can help tone down an overly Alpha guy who may be great at what he does, but those big hands and feet make for lots of milk spillage and rug tripping. This keeps the big galoot real.

Good natured – There’s nothing better than a character with a sense of humor (Isn’t that an essential survival tactic for some of us?)

Uses a position of power for the good of others – Think about the billionaire here or “The Boss” tropes, they don’t have to be slaves to their entitlements. Breaking the mold makes them real.

Longs deeply for something just out of their reach – back to the underdog situation, and also something most of us can relate to.

The idea is to give the reader something to like or latch onto right up front, something to help them tolerate the non-stop conflict until that romance couple earns their happily ever after, the fiction protagonist wins the biggest fight of his life, or the Sci-Fi alien life form overcomes evil for all time.


Perfect characters do not resonate with readers
Overly flawed (despicable) characters need a buffer of one or two good/heroic or friend qualities to stay afloat
Universal truths – things we can all relate to – save the day for edgy characters and billionaires.
When in doubt, have your hero save a bug! Or leave a big tip for a waitress.

Forever a Father (The Delaneys of Sandpiper Beach)

“Will you be my dad?”

Ask me anything but that.

Once upon a time, Dr. Daniel Delaney had it all. But he lost it in the blink of an eye, and he won’t let himself fall again—not even for his dedicated new assistant, Keela O’Mara, and her adorable, lonely little girl, Anna. Resisting a starry-eyed four-year-old is tough enough. Denying her perfect, loving single mom may be more than Daniel can handle…

Buy on:

Amazon Kindle            Amazon Paperback 

Amazon UK                 Amazon Aust


  1. This is a spot-on post for me. I just went through a big rewrite to change a character's motivation and make him more likable. Initial feedback tells me it was a necessary move. Good writing alone isn't enough if readers loathe the main character.

    1. So happy to hear this. Yes, we must like the character even if they do awful things! We all make mistakes, but if the character starts out a jerk and remains a jerk, well...

  2. Great post! Thank you for sharing. I've been having fun making a character a little less adorable. ~grin~ And thank you, Kelly, for stopping by my little blog. Happy Writing, all!

  3. Great tips! I have a tendency to have characters who are too nice - something I'm working on! :)

    1. Hi Jemi -
      Yes, it is easy to only want to deal with the "nice" parts of a character, but flaws create conflict, and conflict is the key to a great story!

  4. It's a balancing act. You want your characters likeable, but if they're too likeable, that can be a turn off as well. Good points.

    1. Yes, Liz, make them real, which always means they are both good and bad. The point is to make sure the best of their character wins out by the end.

  5. What excellent points! Love the examples. I definitely wish I could attend your workshop. Best of luck with the book, Lynne!

  6. Thank so much for reading, Meradeth. I've put that workshop to bed, so I'm glad to share this small part with everyone here.

  7. Characters definitely have to be likeable, unless their role is to be unlikeable. I enjoy giving my characters a couple of “bad” qualities and flaws to round them out and make them relatable and realistic.

    1. Exactly, Chrys. I love it when reviewers say my characters are realistic and relatable. We all have flaws.

  8. Lynne, these are great tip! I especially like the one about animals :-)

    1. Hey Cynical, I love that quote too. How a person treats animals is so telling about their heart. ;)

  9. Lots of great advice. I really liked the suggestions and tips. Lots of things I hadn't thought about before. Thanks for sharing. Lynne. :)

  10. Getting people to like your character can be tricky, especially if s/he's not supposed to be likable at the beginning of the story. Great advice here today.

    1. Clee McK - Yes, characters need growth arcs to make a story engaging, but a glimpse into their insides while showing their horrible outside is really important to get that reader to stick around. Because who wants to read about a character they don't like? I've taken a lot of heat for characters who were opinionated and closed off, and the readers were very verbal about that book! yikes. Lesson learned. ha ha

  11. Excellent advice creating characters. Thank you for sharing this post!